Pakistan's tweeters take on the state

"Just spoke with ████ from the ISI. He tells me that ███&#

Pakistan has 1.9 million twitter users and since the start of the year it has become a major channel for dissent, comment and dark humour against the grinding ISI state.

For those picking their way through the complexities of good guys and bad guys in an opaque country, it has also become a way to support and pay tribute to the Pakistanis who risk their lives to defend the ordinary citizens. It is a way to circulate articles including this in the New York Times by the Martha Gelhorn award-winning editor Umar Cheema, who was picked up and tortured by the ISI, and to swap high-spirited news and gossip.

Ali Dayan Hasan of Human Rights Watch , Pakistan, on the unsung security forces who take the brunt of extremist action: "True Heroes -- security guards, police, soldiers at the frontline -- & their families who endure such suffering. Pity about those who command them." Omar Waraich continues: "I've lost count of how many heroic Pakistani security guards have given their lives stopping terrorists killing more people".

The daily repression, torture and murder of Baloch nationalists, unknown in the west, is constantly and pithily documented. Mohammed Hanif, author of A Case of Exploding Mangoes, put out the murder of a distinguished intellectual and academic "Brilliant Balochi scholar, a very popular teacher at Balochistan University , built a library wth his own money. Prof Saba Dashteyari killed" and days later: "Slain Dr. Saba Dashtiari's room sealed, writings taken, flowers removed". Abbas Nasir, former editor of Dawn: "Abrar Hussain killed in Quetta today represented Pakistan in Olympics boxing. Stop killing Baloch nationalists and deal with these murderers". A Balochi tweets: "Pakistanis u'll never knw what Prof Dashtayari meant. 4 u its another man killed-for us an institution has closed its doors".

It's also become a medium in which high profile tweeters can see off the ISI in a way precluded by regular print, online and broadcasting, some areas of which are infiltrated by the agency itself. On the way to be interviewed on Dunya tv in Islamabad after a long run-off with the ISI, Syed Saleem Shahzad was picked up and killed. A Pakistani tweeted: "Dunya TV has very 'rogue' elements within it too, btw. I will not be surprized if SSS's assassins were tipped off abt the show".

Not best known for its brainpower, the ISI struggled to master the tweet but now apparently has a bevy of guys and gals bothering the media in return, even if it is still not quite bright enough to understand that dubious tweets are flushed back out into the public domain. One riled a well-known and outspoken young liberal broadcaster who replied: "No, you pathetic cretin, I do not hate Pakistan . I love the country and it's people. Hate the ISI for it's dangerous duplicity!" Sideways to a friend: "What's intersting about X is have you seen his posts and blog he's clearly not an ordinary person if you get my drift. Hmm."

Best of all is the terse satire the medium has spawned:

"Whoa!! ISI warns journalists to not defame Pakistan 's "Sensitive agencies"!! I have medical qweshun: Can dicks...".

"Just spoke with ████ from the ISI. He tells me that █████ is in Quetta . █████ in Karachi . And Elvis is in █████ "

Pakistan's best tweeters:

Ali Dayan Hasan, Human Rights Watch: @AliDayan

Abbas Nasir, former editor of Dawn: @abbasnasir59

Shehrbano Taseer, humanitarian campaigner: @shehrbanotaseer

Omar Waraich, journalist: @OmarWaraich

Raza Rumi, journalist: @Razarumi

Majorly Profound, satirist: @majorlyprofound

Mohammed Hanif, award winning novelist: @mohammedhanif

George Fulton, television producer: @GeorgeFulton1

Nadeem Paracha, columnist and satirist: @NadeemfParacha

Catriona Luke is a freelance writer and editor.

 

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How Labour risks becoming a party without a country

Without establishing the role of Labour in modern Britain, the party is unlikely ever to govern again.

“In my time of dying, want nobody to mourn

All I want for you to do is take my body home”

- Blind Willie Johnson

The Conservative Party is preparing itself for a bloody civil war. Conservative MPs will tell anyone who wants to know (Labour MPs and journalists included) that there are 100 Conservative MPs sitting on letters calling for a leadership contest. When? Whenever they want to. This impending war has many reasons: ancient feuds, bad blood, personal spite and enmity, thwarted ambition, and of course, the European Union.

Fundamentally, at the heart of the Tory war over the European Union is the vexed question of ‘What is Britain’s place in the World?’ That this question remains unanswered a quarter of a century after it first decimated the Conservative Party is not a sign that the Party is incapable of answering the question, but that it has no settled view on what the correct answer should be.

The war persists because the truth is that there is no compromise solution. The two competing answers are binary opposites: internationalist or insular nationalist, co-habitation is an impossibility.

The Tories, in any event, are prepared to keep on asking this question, seemingly to the point of destruction. For the most part, Labour has answered this question: Britain will succeed as an outward looking, internationalist state. The equally important question facing the Labour Party is ‘What is the place of the Labour Party in modern Britain?’ Without answering this question, Labour is unlikely to govern ever again and in contrast to the Tories, Labour has so far refused to acknowledge that such a question is being asked of it by the people it was founded to serve. At its heart, this is a question about England and the rapidly changing nature of the United Kingdom.

In the wake of the 2016 elections, the approach that Labour needs to take with regard to the ‘English question’ is more important than ever before. With Scotland out of reach for at least a generation (assuming it remains within the United Kingdom) and with Labour’s share of the vote falling back in Wales in the face of strong challenges from Plaid Cymru and UKIP, Labour will need to rely upon winning vast swathes of England if we are to form a government in 2020.

In a new book published this week, Labour’s Identity Crisis, Tristram Hunt has brought together Labour MPs, activists and parliamentary candidates from the 2015 general election to explore the challenges facing Labour in England and how the party should address these, not purely as an electoral device, but as a matter of principle.

My contribution to the book was inspired by Led Zeppelin’s Physical Graffiti. The track list reads like the score for a musical tragedy based upon the Labour Party from 2010 onwards: In My Time of Dying, Trampled Underfoot, Sick Again, Ten Years Gone. 

Continued Labour introspection is increasingly tiresome for the political commentariat – even boring – and Labour’s Identity Crisis is a genuinely exciting attempt to swinge through this inertia. As well as exploring our most recent failure, the book attempts to chart the course towards the next Labour victory: political cartography at its most urgent.

This collection of essays represents an overdue effort to answer the question that the Party has sought to sidestep for too long.  In the run up to 2020, as the United Kingdom continues to atomise, the Labour Party must have an ambitious, compelling vision for England, or else risks becoming a party without a country.

Jamie Reed is Labour MP for Copeland.